In our second year of highlighting important movies from outside the U.S., we’ve expanded our scope because, well, there are just so many good movies coming from outside the U.S. This list counts movies from over a dozen countries, spanning topics as diverse as horny lesbian nuns, truck-mating impostors and the expression of grief from two quiet folks in a car. If you can brave the one-inch barrier of subtitles for these incredible films, you’ll be vastly rewarded with a range of genres, styles and A-list filmmakers at the tops of their games.
The Worst Person in the World
Millennials were born into a world that no longer demands much of young people, yet somehow expects even more of us. Not as long ago as we might think, it was the norm for adults in their 20s and 30s to have it all figured out. A spouse, a career, a gaggle of children—at least one of these things and even better if all three. Young people now are caught in this strange purgatory between child and adult. We are afforded more time to become who we want to be and there is more pressure than ever to do so. Enter Julie (Renate Reinsve, Dakota Johnson’s long-lost twin), a fickle Norwegian who has never stayed committed to one thing in her entire life. A teenaged overachiever, she dabbled in medicine before she discovered that she was more interested in matters of the soul than the body. So, she cuts and dyes her hair, dumps her med school lover and pivots to psychology pursuits before burning that all down too, shifting once again—this time to photography. But unsurprisingly, photography manages to bore Julie as well, and soon enough she’s off to the next new thing, next new hairstyle, next new guy in the adult coming-of-age film that is Joachim Trier’s The Worst Person in the World, the director’s follow-up to the 2017 supernatural thriller Thelma and his fifth film overall. Prior to this breakneck, whimsically-scored narrated montage of Julie’s life so far (edited with precision by Olivier Bugge Coutté and scored by Ola Fløttum), the narrator explains what’s going to happen: This is a film in twelve chapters, complete with a prologue and an epilogue. Thus, The Worst Person in the World functions like a fractured collection of moments in one person’s life as they strive for self-actualization. The chapters are never consistently timed, some lasting only a few minutes and others lasting the length of a television episode, creating an atmosphere in which we never know how much time has passed, and yet time is passing all the same—and quickly—for Julie. When we’ve finally caught up to her present, she’s entered into a long-term relationship with a successful, 44-year-old graphic novelist named Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie), whose prosperous career has given her the stability to work a day job at a bookstore while she decides what she wants to set her sights on next. Joachim Trier’s The Worst Person in the World is as indecisive as its endlessly curious heroine, but it is an invigorating, exceedingly kind portrait conveying that the journey is just as—if not more—crucial as the place we end up.—Brianna Zigler.
Swimming Out Till the Sea Turns Blue
With little context beyond base place names and proper nouns, Jia Zhangke’s latest documentary charts China’s rapidly transforming identity over the past seven decades. From one to 18, amorphous chapter titles (“Sound,” “Journeys,” “Disease,” “Mother,” or just a name: “Yu Hua”) oneirically attend to some archetype or passing theme, but for the ignorant Westerner—in other words: me and many readers here—they provide emotional anchors as Jia increasingly merges the past with the present. Or, at least, as he struggles to. Beginning at a lit fest in Jia’s hometown province of Shanxi, where generations of writers come together to help remember China’s many changing faces, Swimming Out Till the Sea Turns Blue focuses on three prominent writers—Jia Pingwa, Yu Hua and Liang Hong, each successively younger, their childhoods filtered through ever-altering shades of Chinese culture-connected by a literary tradition begun with Ma Feng, who wrote popularly of Chinese country life. As Jia interviews his subjects, their stories tell of coming of age during the Cultural Revolution or in the unrest that followed, simultaneously tragic and tickling, modern life typically intrudes. Occupying the real estate of every frame, phone screens scramble light, headphones in every ear and someone filming something; meanwhile, Jia juxtaposes shots from his earlier films with their current state, or catches old writers staring incomprehensibly at their younger counterparts. Whether Liang Hong’s 14-year-old son’s completely losing the dialect from the region where he was born, where his mother grew up, or a shot of a communal dining hall reveals rows of young people glued to their phones, the present always threatens to quietly extinguish the past. Nelson Yu-lik Wai’s cinematography captures the quotidian as an immersive depth of commotion and inner life, two chapters especially (“Journeys” and “Sound”) a showcase for montages that widen the film’s purview, presenting modern China as a mélange of contradictions and anachronisms. Swimming Out is something of a culmination of Jia’s work, then, a celebration of artists as those who, with the wisdom of time, preserve and presage history as they actively define it. He also wonders if they’re—and he counts himself here—doing a good enough job. Regardless, the sea is now clearly blue, no matter what text books once said. And Yu Hua can watch a Blazers/Nuggets game in public, on his phone, in peace.—Dom Sinacola. note: Hacker Mission: Resurrection Movie
If Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio and Alexandre Aja’s High Tension had a kid and raised it on Vinegar Syndrome releases, that kid would grow up to be Prano Bailey-Bond’s Censor. A demonstration of refined craftsmanship and a gleeful embrace of horror’s grimiest mores all at the same time, Censor is the ultimate “have cake, eat it too” film, being both exceptionally well-made and stuffed to the gunwales with everything that makes horror worth watching: Creeping dread, paranoia, gross-out violence and inspired fits of madness, with a side of smirking defiance for the conservative pitchfork mobs that have tried to pin all the world’s ills on the genre since always. Bailey-Bond’s film is in conversation with history, the era of Margaret Thatcher and cultural garment-rending over the proliferation of video nasties among impressionable Brits. Enid (Niamh Algar), a film censor, fills her days watching graphically staged dramatizations of brutality, then cutting down their countless offenses to an acceptable size. One such picture too closely resembles a horrible incident from her childhood, one resulting in the disappearance of her sister—or more specifically, it’s the lead actress in the picture who too closely resembles her sister. The encounter sets Enid on a quest to recover her long-lost sibling, which takes her on a descent into insanity…plus a few choice gore shots. But as much as Censor connects with Britain’s past, it connects with horror’s past, too, in keeping with the genre’s tradition of self-awareness and self-critique. When social forces come together to blame horror for the existence of darkness, it’s because those forces can’t stand their own self-reflections. They need an easy way out, and moral panic is easy. Horror knows who the real villains are, and so does Bailey-Bond. Don’t take that as a warning sign, though: Censor isn’t stuffy or preachy, not at all. It’s the reason we go see horror movies in the first place.—Andy Crump. note: Gold Secret Agent: Origins of Kingsman Movie